On the morning of September 29, 1864, as dawn broke over eastern Virginia, some 7001 black soldiers in the 4th and 6th regiments of the Union Army walked directly into enemy fire. The ultimate target of their assault was Richmond, the Confederate capital, just 15 miles north of where they stood. Success against the rebels’ fortress, which had never been touched in four years of war, would be a knife in the heart of the Confederacy, which only partly explains the intrepid action that day by units of what were then called the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
The approximately 1,8002 soldiers arrayed against them were members of the Texas Confederacy, opponents of emancipation who were notorious for an especially sharp loathing of African Americans. When one of them saw the 4th and 6th approaching over the swampy terrain, he shouted, “n—ers, boys, n—-ers,” reveling in the prospect of what his unit called a “coon fight.”